MIAMI – Joe Carollo didn’t park in his usual reserved spot at Miami City Hall and apparently got in using the back entrance, but all eyes were on the city commissioner as he sat on the dais Thursday, attending his first commission meeting since losing a multi-million dollar lawsuit the week prior.
Local 10 News tried to get comment from Carollo after the meeting, but he tried to lay down rules.
A federal jury in Fort Lauderdale found that the commissioner violated the rights of two Little Havana businessmen, Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla, and ordered him to pay $63 million in damages.
Fuller and Pinilla claimed that Carollo infringed on their free speech rights, alleging he used his office to harass them and damage their reputations, all because they supported his political opponent, Alfonso “Alfie” Leon, in 2017.
“We are not liable,” fellow Commissioner Manolo Reyes said before Thursday’s meeting. “Not a single penny of the $63 million the city of Miami is liable for.”
Carollo got an earful as public speakers took the lectern.
“I think Commissioner Joe Carollo should resign,” local activist Thomas Kennedy said. “I think you’re a criminal. And shame on you.”
Kennedy was among those who spoke at a news conference Tuesday, calling on Carollo to step down or be removed from office. They also called on local and federal authorities to launch a criminal investigation against the commissioner.
“We respectfully ask that you step down,” Christi Tasker, who’s running for the city commission seat currently held by Sabina Covo, said to Carollo during Thursday’s meeting.
Covo, on Tuesday, stopped short of calling for Carollo’s resignation or ouster, posting a statement to Twitter on the matter, saying in part that “taxpayers should not be on the hook for the actions of a member of this body.”
“(W)e need to fully restore our community’s trust and this requires independent counsel to guide our city so we can ensure a fully transparent and accountable process moving forward,” Covo said in part.
The city released a statement saying that taxpayers bear no financial responsibility for that $63 million judgment. Commissioner Christine King broke her silence on the verdict Thursday.
“The City of Miami taxpayers bare (sic) NO financial responsibility for legal fees expended up to now nor judgement if the verdict is upheld on appeal,” King said in a statement. “State statutes and common law that afford elected officials legal representation is not unique to the City of Miami. All elected officials: federal, state, and local are entitled to legal representation until all remedies at law are exhausted.”
She went on to say that the city is “fiscally responsible and accountable to its residents” and “will not pass the burden of legal expenses to its residents.”
“The City of Miami was not a defendant in Fuller v. Carollo and therefore cannot be financially responsible,” King said in part. “Litigation in Fuller v. Carollo is ongoing. There will be an appeal. However, financial responsibility does not change because of an appeal.”
She added: “As more information becomes available, I will share and assure you that I will champion measures to protect residents from unnecessary costs.”
The city is already on the hook for the commissioner’s legal fees — about $2 million.
The city has not provided an updated total figure, and whatever that is, it will not include lawyer’s fees related to Carollo’s expected appeals.
Reyes clarified how part of that figure gets paid.
“There’s an insurance (policy) that the city has to protect itself when they have to pay for outside counsel,” he said.
Will Carollo talk to Local 10 News?
Carollo later declined a request for a recorded interview with Local 10 News reporter Glenna Milberg. Instead, he demanded a live interview on the 6 p.m. news, saying he’s concerned about being edited.
“You chop me up and you put down what you want,” Carollo said.
“All the (news outlets) you just talked to operate the same way,” Milberg reminded him.
That is, save for a Spanish-language news outlet, which did grant his request for a live interview, where he compared his case to that of George Floyd and OJ Simpson and said Miamians are “lucky” to have him, calling the verdict a “lie.”
“Channel 10 is tremendously biased against me,” Carollo said.
“That’s not true,” Milberg responded. “That’s factually not true.”
“Tell your producer that if they want me to go live at 6 (p.m.) I’ll be happy to,” Carollo later said.
Milberg did tell the commissioner he’s welcome to come on “This Week in South Florida” this upcoming Sunday, where there will be a seat available for him — live and unedited, as he requested.
It remained to be seen whether Carollo would accept that invitation.
Milberg was able to get some short answers from the commissioner, though.
“Let me ask you this: If I report tonight in my story you are going to appeal, that would be correct?” Milberg asked.
“That is correct,” Carollo replied.
“Would I be factual if I report tonight you will not be resigning?” Milberg asked.
“Yes, absolutely,” Carollo replied.
Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo can talk…— Glenna Milberg (@GlennaWPLG) June 8, 2023
Tho after his first meeting since a federal jury found him liable for using his power to violate businessmen’s rights -
he said this▶️
(PS he did say more, which you’ll hear @WPLGLocal10 5&6)
(PPS - producers said “no”) pic.twitter.com/43XYma5udf